Triathlon Magazine Canada
INSIDE THE AGE GROUP MIND
Back in the Saddle, in Maple Sugar Country in Rural Quebec
QUESTION: How does a triathlete know when she has spent too much time in the saddle on her indoor bike trainer over the course of a pandemic?
ANSWER: When she finds herself mesmerized by the grey asphalt rolling backward under her wheels and suddenly realizes that you are not supposed to be looking straight down at the pavement, but rather in the direction in which you are cycling.
THERE IS NOTHING like a crosswind gusting up from the lake and nearly knocking you out of your aerobars to wake you from your reverie and remind you, yes, you are racing again, for the first time in two seasons. That event was the inaugural triathlon at the base of Mont Saint-Mathieu, a ski resort on a small lake tucked away in the foothills in Quebec’s Lower St. Lawrence, midway between Rivière-du-Loup and Rimouski.
Organizers Patrick Dumont and Carl Charron had originally planned the event for July 2020, even persuading a Quebec sports hero, three-time age-group Kona champion Pierre Lavoie, to come out of retirement to race against his 30-year-old son Bruno-Pierre, a 6-foot-5 hockey and soccer jock. Then came COVID, and like nearly all races in Canada, their triathlon was put on ice. Quebec eased COVID-related public health restrictions on outdoor sporting events in late June, allowing Dumont and Charron to firm up plans for a day-long event on July 25, with up to 250 participants plus volunteers allowed on site for each wave. There’d be no medals, no expo, no party afterward, but people flocked to sign up. “After a year of inactivity and no racing, people are just so eager to get out and do a triathlon,” said Dumont when registration reopened. In the end, 349 people took part — many making the six-hour trip from the Montreal region with their state-of-the-art time-trial bikes and assorted high-end gear, but also 85 of them first-time triathletes.
Among the first-timers was my stepdaughter, Iléana Gutnick, and her pals Julia Carignan and Éliane Proulx-Marchessault, who raced as a team in the sprint event. The three of them showed up in a wild assortment of non-triathlon-specific clothing — leopardskin leggings and matching bandanas, hot pink knee socks. You get the picture.
Proulx-Marchessault, who had no idea how fast her time might be for 750 m, hung back on the beach as physically distanced groups of six triathletes took to the water in a staggered start. When she finally dove in, one of the few not in wetsuits, Proulx-Marchessault’s comfort in open water showed as she blasted past wave after wave of the swimmers who had gone in before her.
Carignan’s story was not much different: the night before the event, she’d scrambled to find a helmet that fit properly and a new tube for her much-patched-up road bike. But the sometime-bicycle mechanic proved her prowess in the pouring rain, sprinting with her bike to the start line and clipping into her pedals as she rolled forward with such momentum that she drew gasps of admiration from race volunteers.
As for Gutnick, she ran her best 5 km ever, and her only regret was that her 17-monthold son Taro couldn’t be at the finish line to witness his mother compete in her first race. Her team’s combined performance was good enough for second place among the women — which simply fuelled their fire to be fitter, faster and formidable a year from now.
Due to COVID, supporters were discouraged from hanging out near the transition zone, however, spectators gathered in small groups all along the bike route, which ran past lakefront cottages, maple sugar forests and farmyards and through the picturesque village of Saint-Mathieu.
“The smaller the place, the bigger a deal an event like this is for the townspeople,” said veteran Ironman Pierre Lavoie. “They really adopted it, and that made for a really great race.”
Lavoie had bet his 30-year-old son he could whip him by at least three minutes, despite the fact he hadn’t raced a sprint triathlon in two decades.
He credits muscle memory and all the thousands of miles of cycling since his retirement from triathlon, not to mention cross-country skiing in the off-season in Quebec’s Saguenay region, where he makes his home, to his success.
“Bruno-Pierre is really strong on the bike. But running is my strength, and I really ran well,” said Pierre at the finish line. Indeed, the 58-year-old beat the entire field, nearly two minutes ahead of the second-place finisher, Samuel Lavoie (no relation) — and exactly three minutes and three seconds ahead of his son, who came in fourth in his very first triathlon. “I’m hooked,” said Pierre-Bruno, who only recently took up cycling. “I’m sure it’s the last time I’ll beat him by that much,” said his proud father. “He is getting so much faster.” Watch for a rematch in 2022. By then, Dumont hopes to have the Triathlon Mont-Saint-Mathieu on the Coupe du Québec circuit. There’s little doubt that post-pandemic, more triathletes will be ready to travel farther afield to discover one of the prettiest races in Canada.
Montreal’s Loreen Pindera is an avid triathlete and regular contributor to Triathlon Magazine Canada.
“After a year of inactivity and no racing, people are just so eager to get out and do a triathlon”